By Susannah Cullinane and Cheri Mossburg, CNN
California’s McKinney Fire has destroyed nearly 90 houses and is only 40% contained a week after breaking out in the Klamath National Forest, with hot and dry conditions expected to continue through the weekend.
The blaze, the largest wildfire in California so far this year, erupted on July 29 in the forest near the California-Oregon border and grew rapidly, fueled by winds from thunderstorms.
As of Sunday morning, the fire had burned over 60,200 acres and the perimeter was 40% contained, according to InciWeb, a US clearinghouse for fire information. More than 3,500 fire personnel are involved in battling the fire.
Of 274 structures inspected so far, 87 homes and an additional 47 structures — including garages and commercial buildings — have been destroyed, according to an initial damage assessment released by the Siskiyou County Office of Emergency Services.
The office said a further four structures had minor damage from the fire, with the damage assessment more than 50% complete.
The Klamath River community remains under an evacuation order, it said.
CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam said weather conditions were unlikely to help quell the fire over the weekend.
“Conditions have remained sunny and hot around the McKinney fire within the past 24 hours lending to the dry conditions near the incident. High temperatures have neared the triple digits in the valley floors, with excessive heat continuing through Monday before slightly cooler temperatures move in,” he said.
“The combination of the heat, low humidity values, dry conditions and downslope winds mean that further spread of the fire can be anticipated through the weekend and into early next week. Although a thunderstorm cannot be ruled out over the fire region today, it won’t likely contain any meaningful rainfall.”
The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said it was working to try to allow residents back to their properties but that numerous hazards remained in the evacuation zone. Four bodies have been recovered from the burn area, it said earlier in the week.
Search and Rescue teams from California and southern Oregon had contributed more than 1,000 volunteer hours to the operation, the sheriff’s office said in a post on Facebook.
“At least 150 SAR members have been staffing our Law Enforcement Command Post, planning and organizing daily operations, going downriver to assist with searching structures and homes, and everything else that goes into a large incident. We have also had 10 search and rescue K9 teams, starting early in the morning each day,” it said.
Homes burned to the ground
Among the homes that burned down was that of Kayla Dailey, who fled the blaze with her family on the due date for her third child.
“I could see nothing but smoke and the fire coming down the mountain,” Dailey told CNN earlier this week. Dailey, her two young sons, husband Levi and the family’s roommate Dalton Shute left in their small car with few possessions.
Dailey later learned the fire had started just 3 miles away from their home, which they had relocated to from Indiana just four months ago.
When she spoke to CNN, Dailey was concerned that the evacuation of the nearest hospital meant she faced a 2-hour trek through the mountains to give birth at a hospital in Medford, Oregon.
On Friday, she shared the news that the local hospital began accepting patients on a limited basis when Dailey went into labor and her baby daughter was born safely via emergency C-section on Thursday.
Her brother-in-law has established a GoFundMe page to help the family, which lost everything in the fire.
Shute, the Dailey’s friend and roommate, told CNN that he had lost his mother to a house fire when he was 6 years old. “I feel that sort of emptiness I felt when I was a child,” he said.
But he was optimistic that he and his friends would rebound. “We’re definitely not going to let this set us back,” Shute said.
Valerie Linfoot and her husband, both retired forest firefighters, lost their home of more than three decades.
“We’ve fought fires and seen homes burn up and been in a place of being the firefighters there doing that work, but to have it happen to yourself, it’s just unimaginable,” Linfoot told CNN earlier in the week. “I’m still overwhelmed that we’re the victims of this horrible, horrible convergence of weather and fire, which so many times we’ve seen other people suffer.”
For Linfoot, the hardest part is thinking about the irreplaceable items that were left behind when her home burned down, such as her wedding rings, the ashes of her mother and grandmother and her children’s baby photographs.
The Linfoots set up a GoFundMe page to help them with recovery and rebuilding.
“It’s a small community and this is absolutely devastating to Klamath River,” she said. “I don’t know how they’re gonna recover. None of us are rich people. We’re all hardworking and resilient people, but most people that were down there are middle class, regular working folks or retirees.”
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